London protest in aid of Gaza
Going to Palestine in 2006 changed my life. It was an innocently motivated trip to see the ‘Holy Land’, as I was studying religions and had chosen to focus on the Abrahamic three. In this way, I was utterly unprepared for what I saw and experienced. Prior to going, I had taken only a passing interest in the horrendously difficult mess that is the Palestine / Israeli conflict, as it all seemed so politicised. I tend to shy away from politics, since it all feels like lies.
But what I saw changed all of that. I came back promising myself that I must do something more to help the Palestinians than just writing about it and telling people what I saw. Largely, I suppose, I have failed that promise, aside from a half-hearted boycott of Israeli goods (I’m not entirely sure it is the right thing to do since many Palestinians work the land), and the purchase of Palestinian fair trade goods. Mostly I just feel crippled by an overwhelming rage towards people who show no sympathy or understanding for the Palestinians, which is borderline everyone who has not been and seen for themselves.
Palestine is literally two rapidly shrinking prisons operated by a foreign military force, and you can’t possibly understand what desperation is unless you have seen these prisons. These people are dying and they know it and they also know that no one cares, because how else can it be possible for Israel to consistently violate UN resolutions, inflict numerous human right abuses, and not have strict sanctions imposed on them? How is it that one country can invade another, permanently occupy its land and imprison its people, and yet the world condemns the caged and invaded country for fighting back? I mean, really? If you were illegally imprisoned by a foreigner in your own country, would you not do everything you could to get free?
So, yesterday morning when I saw both the invite to the protest outside the Israeli embassy and that Israel were on their second day of air strikes, I knew I had to go. If nothing else, it would show the London Israeli embassy that I hated what they were doing, that I thought they were wrong. And I know that they don’t care because their hearts are hollow when it comes to the Palestinians, but I do – I care. I care and I went to tell them so.
If one good thing has come out of my recent addiction to FaceBook, it is this: I never would have known about the demo if not for a FaceBook invitation from dear, sweet H. When I arrived in Kensington at about 2.30pm, I was worried that I wouldn’t find the embassy (I wasn’t exactly sure where it was), or that no one would have turned up yet. However, as I weaved my way through a sudden density of traffic on Kensington High Street, I started to hear the protesters chanting and I realised that I was neither too early nor alone in caring.
Some reports say there were 2000 of us, which sounds about right; other reports say a thousand, which also sounds about right. It’s hard to say for certain because pretty early on the police set up barricades to separate us out into two groups (and, eventually, three). After a certain time, those who came from the tube were mostly barred from joining the rest of us outside the embassy. There was a large gap on the road which was edged off by rows of police in order to keep us apart. Divide and conquer and all that.
I haven’t been to a protest for well over a decade, so I felt kind of shy and didn’t really know what to expect. Also, I’m not good in crowds and have an enormously large personal space, so I wasn’t sure what kind of internal battles I would have to perform in order to stay long enough to say what I wanted to say to Israel – that they daily strip themselves of their humanity by denying the Palestinians theirs.
However, I soon discovered that a large group of people who have come together for an act of love towards humanity are different from other large groups of people. You smile and you crack jokes with strangers, you hold on to unknown people, and you help each other sit and stand in small spaces. We overheard a Sky news reporter calling us ‘an angry bunch’ and for the first time that day we felt that emotion, since we couldn’t recognise ourselves in the picture she was painting of the day. Perhaps anger against what Israel is doing is what motivated us all come to the demo; but we came together in defiance and in our belief in the humanity of the Palestinians, and that was expressed by feelings of unity, of solidarity, and of happiness that we were all taking a stand and that we all cared. We felt no anger that day, but rather love and compassion, for we knew we were doing the just and the righteous thing.
The BBC says we clashed with police after storming a barrier – that is an outright lie. The truth is that we were exercising our right to peacefully protest when the police decided they’d had enough of us and started pushing against us. They formed a human wall and pushed as hard as they could so we were forced back, away from the other protesters, away from the embassy. They pushed even though many of us were peacefully sitting down (think a Ghandi-esque sit-in), they pushed even though there were small children and people in wheelchairs. They pushed against us so that we struggled to stay upright and unhurt, tripping over each other as we stood up or moved backwards. They pushed against us, and they brought the one piece of ugly to the whole afternoon.
I’m smiling now because I can remember falling backwards as the police pushed us, and a man behind me pushing against me, both to keep me upright and to keep me off him. I turned around and he apologised for pushing me! I laughed so hard and told him that I thought we were past that now. But how very, very British. 😉
This is a crappy old camera phone video of the event. Please watch it so you can see how loudly we told them that they are wrong, how loudly we told them that they are unjust, how loudly we told them that we care about the Palestinians.
And finally, before I leave, if you only ever read one more thing about this whole conflict, please just read absolutely wonderful article by Nir Rosen called Gaza: the logic of colonial power. I think he has renewed my faith in journalism in one short and fabulously sharp article. Yay for him!